Tag Archives: Comma

Bee-eaters and Bad Photos

We went to see the Bee-eaters at East Leake Quarry today. I had been planning a visit to Bempton to see the Puffins but Julia persuaded me that we really should visit the rarities. My experience with rare birds is that they have normally gone by the time I get there, or if they are still there I wouldn’t recognise it if it pecked me on the bottom.

Take Richard’s Pipit as an example. They turn up regularly and excite twitchers. To me they’re just a brown bird, as are most of the other pipits.

The postcode is LE12 6RG if you want to pop along. Parking is £5, split between farmer and RSPB. The car park is 385 yards from the viewing area, according to the volunteers at the car park. These things are important when you have a bad knee.

The meadows on the way to the viewing area were full of butterflies, including Ringlet (hundreds of them!), Meadow Brown, Comma, Small Tortoiseshell and Large Skipper. There were some Whites too – but at a distance they all look the same to me. I need to get my eye in again. I didn’t manage many photos as they kept fluttering about instead of settling.

Eventually we arrived at the viewing point. The birds proved to be very obliging, using a selection of dead branches to perch on when eating bees. Julia managed to watch one eating a dragonfly., which I missed because I was watching one posing in the sunlight.

They are bright and exotic birds, but in truth just a little bit garish, like a bird designed for a Primary School project. Still good to see though.

We only saw three against the maximum of seven that have been seen, but with any luck the others are off nesting. There are records of successful breeding in the UK, as detailed in the links at the beginning of the post, so there is no reason why they shouldn’t be breeding. They like to burrow into sandbanks and this is a sand quarry with an active population of Sand Martins, who also burrow into the banks.

Sorry the photos aren’t very good, but the birds were a long way off. It wasn’t just me having problems – the people with the big expensive lenses were having problems too. When the day heats up, things start to get hazy, and this spoils the photo quality. I don’t feel as bad about my photos now…

The Care Farm Experience


It’s been a lazy day today. I’ve tried to be enthusiastic but I didn’t get back from Leeds until 1am this morning and when I tried to go to sleep all I could see was motorway traffic on the back of my eyelids. It was around 3am before I got to sleep, then I woke up at 5…

It wasn’t the best of starts.

At least I know I have done my duty as a father (the one that involves passing cash across and acting as a taxi driver, rather than the bit where you impart moral education and the Laws of Rugby).To make things worse I didn’t write a list of jobs to do, which always leads to wasted time.

It was a strange day for butterflies. We had the usual suspects (whites and small tortoiseshells) but managed a Painted Lady, Red Admiral and Comma. We haven’t seen a Comma or Red Admiral for months.

Julia has been industrious, trying out crafts for Flintham Ploughing Match. She has decided, after a somewhat fraught session, that straw weaving won’t make the cut – it just takes too much time and concentration. We will just take some corn dollies and information sheets.

We have had to revert to using paper art straws because modern wheat straw just isn’t long enough. In 1815 the Brigade of Guards concealed themselves in a field of wheat before leaping out to rout the advancing French. If they’d tried that in 2015 it would not have been so much of a surprise.


I’ve finished the McDonald’s Breakfast post on Pies and Prejudice, got the recipes together for the scone post I’m planning and sorted the cutters ready for making the saltdough poppies (part of the Big Autumn Project).

Finally we had home made blackberry jam and, after washing the outside of the jars (which seemed to have got very sticky in the filling process), divided last week’s jam between the group. It was a microwavable recipe – very quick and easy. It produces a slightly soft jam that tastes very fruity.

We spread it on some crackers left over from butter making. Everyone seemed to like it, including a few late summer wasps that were cruising around up to no good.

Currently we are waiting for the taxi. It’s twenty five minutes late already and we’ve been told it will be at least another 20 minutes. The original car, it seems, has broken down and they have been having trouble with the phones, because they always lose reception out here (though strangely enough, I don’t.)

They have several breakdowns every year and never seem to have phones that work.

I detect a slightly unlikely excuse.

I also detect the sort of service you get when the council puts a service out to the lowest bidder.



Butterfly Count

Just been doing a butterfly count.

Six Red Admirals, the most we’ve ever counted here at one time. Four on the blue buddleia and two on the red one.


Red Admiral

Five Large Whites. Could probably have made it more if I’d looked in the polytunnel, as there are often six or eight there, but you are supposed to stay in one spot for the count.

Two Small Whites. They seem to prefer the periwinkle to the buddleia.

Two Small Tortoiseshells. It’s not been a great year for them. We did see a lot on the lavender before the count started but they have gone. Traditionally this has been our commonest butterfly (despite population dips elsewhere) but not this year.

One Peacock. Sometimes rivals the Tortoiseshells for numbers but not this year so far.

One Comma. The first of the year. It just goes to show the benefit of taking time to look.



It’s not a bad selection, but it’s a strange year for our two commonest butterflies. At least we have a surge in Red Admirals.

Meanwhile there are no Mint Moths about at the moment, despite seeing several early on in the season and there were no Gatekeepers/Meadow Browns flying during the count.

I will try again in the same place this afternoon and see if it makes a difference.


Old cameras and other stories

I’ve recently resurrected my old Lumix. At the time I bought it I thought it was (a) expensive (b) technically advanced and (c) going to last me for a while.

Well, I was correct in one respect; it was expensive. To be fair, it was technically advanced for the time but, as with all modern technology, its time didn’t last long. As for the rest, Julia bought an Olympus that was far better than the Lumix and within a year I’d saved up for a new Olympus (the model that had replaced Julia’s – such is the pace of change.

Ten days ago I decided to charge up the Lumix and give it a run. It’s a lot more solid to hold and the colour is probably better rendered but apart from that the Olympus wins hands down. The zoom is better, the focus is better and the shutter speed is better. Sometimes old can be classic, but other times it’s just outdated. It’s like wine and knees. Wine improves with age: knees don’t.





The one at the top is taken with the Lumix, the lower one with the Olympus. I was standing within a few feet of the same spot both times, the Olympus shot was about twenty minutes later than the other, with light conditions being pretty much the same (as much as the human eye can tell).

The reason I couldn’t use the Olympus for the first shot was because Julia had mine to take pictures of the combine in the oilseed rape.




That’s another plus for the Lumix, it’s always available for use (which was good as we don’t get many Commas in the butterfly garden) because nobody ever wants to borrow the old camera!


Feeling like a Naturalist!

I’m feeling like a naturalist at the moment.

Sunday and Monday we had the Humming Bird Hawk Moth, which was a real lift after four years of trying to establish the sensory/butterfly garden. It has a long way to go yet but it now feels like we’ve made a start.

Yesterday morning we saw a buzzard, just a day after I said to Julia “It must be a month since we last saw a buzzard.” It was perching on a fence post by the side of the A 46 about a mile before we turned off, a rumpled looking darkish bird with strong white flecking. – I suppose you’d call it a dark form if you were being technical, and if you were to look up “disgruntled” in the dictionary I’m pretty sure you would find a picture of this bird if you were being anthropomorphic.

Then, as we drove down the lane, a stoat poured itself across the road less than 10 feet in front of the car. Compared to the buzzard it seemed very sleek and self-satisfied. It was the biggest one I’ve ever seen since 1961, though the one in 1961 probably looked larger because I was only three. I seem to recall that the sun always shone and that butterflies were as big as my hand in those days. Butterflies have shrunk considerably over the years and, to be honest, my disappointment with life has grown in inverse proportion.

In the afternoon, whilst watching the butterflies I managed to find two Commas – one on  a fence rail and one on a buddleia about 10 feet away. Couldn’t get a good shot, but the second one was a bit raggy, with a spot of damage on the left wing – I will probably recognise it if I see it again. Also got a good shot of a gatekeeper on a thistle in the polytunnel (a short one that escaped the cull). I’m getting better at little brown butterflies.



As we watered at the end of the day we startled a Small Copper but couldn’t get a decent shot. We have a picture of one from last year but it it shows too much of my eczema, which doesn’t make for a great shot, unless you need it for a medical textbook.


Nipplewort and Commas (2)

It seems I was a bit premature when I made my last post, because as soon as I stood up from the desk I found myself surrounded by a mob of over-excited children. I was just in time to help with the garden-dismantling process known as “nature bling” – making jewellery from flowers and leaves. It’s an activity better carried out in the wild in my opinion as they took far too many wild strawberry flowers from the plants in pots and even picked some of the day lilies that I’ve been forbidden to eat on the basis that we don’t have many.

We call it “nature bling” to be down with the kids, but in fact it’s using double-sided tape to stick flowers and leaves to bits of cardboard which can be used as bracelets. They look for flowers, and they learn to avoid bees, so it’s quite a useful exercise. Unfortunately it doesn’t teach them to sniff the flowers, and when you suggest they do they often just say “it smells of mint”. Seeing as it’s often marjoram, thyme, sage or oregano, it doesn’t actually smell of mint.


They are a little better with lavender, quite often describing it as smelling like “soap” or “grandma”.

Anyway, there I was in the garden when I looked across at a buddleia bush and saw a Comma.

For some reason it didn’t fly away when I moved closer. I’m not sure why because stealth isn’t my forte, maybe it just felt sorry for me, but here’s the picture, taken about 20 minutes after I’d posted to complain I could never get a good picture of a Comma.

. It’s never going to win any prizes but it’s one of the better shots I’ve taken of butterflies, and certainly the best shot of a Comma.


The Big Butterfly Count starts tomorrow so I’m hoping for a good showing – we’ll be counting several times with different groups and with any luck we shopuld end up with a few extra butterflies compared to last year.